The Athena X-ray Observatory
Athena (the Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophysics), has been proposed as ESA's next-generation X-ray astronomy observatory. It has been conceived to address two key questions in modern astrophysics:
- How does ordinary matter form the large-scale structures that we see today?
- How do black holes grow and shape the Universe?
Athena will provide a huge leap in observational capabilities compared to current X-ray astronomy facilities, providing factor ~10 improvements in imaging high-resolution spectroscopy and wide field X-ray imaging. These advances are need to determine the astrophyiscal processes responsible for the evolution of the hot gas over cosmic time, the end point of which are clusters, groups and filaments which dominate the baryonic content of the Universe. Feedback from supermassive black holes apparently plays a major role in determining the evolution of these large baryonic structures, as well as that of galaxies. Athena will also perform a census of black hole activity stretching out to the highest redshifts (z>6) and identifying even the most obscured systems shrouded in dust and gas, possibly due to the feedback process itself. Spectroscopy and timing studies of nearby accreting black holes will shed light on the processes causing feedback - which ultimately originate close to the black hole event horizon - and the mechanisms by which the radiative and/or mechanical output of the black hole couples to larges scales, where it has such an apparently profound effect.
Athena will use the innovative silicon pore optics (SPO) technology in order to achieve the science goals with a 2m2 effective collecting area with 5" angular resolution. The focal plane will have two instruments on a rotating platform. The Wide Field Imager (WFI) consists of an active pixel sensor camera with a 40'x40' field of view, high count-rate capability and high time resolution. The X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU) provides spatially resolved high resolution (2.5eV) spectroscopy over a field of 5'x5. Athena is envisioned to be placed in orbit at L2 with a nominal mission lifetime of 5-years.
The major MPE contribution to Athena will be the WFI instrument. This novel detector concept based on the Silicon DePFET technology provides the possibility for a large focal plane with nearly Fano-limited energy resolution coupled with the potential for very fast readouts resulting in high-time resolution and count rate capability. The MPE is also participating substantially to the Athena optics program via provision of the PANTER test facility and by developing backup optics technologies based on slumped glass.
Athena is currently entering the assessment study phase.
Further information is available here